Two presentations at the Marlborough Fly Fishing Show

I’ve been invited again to speak at the 2018 Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, MA. On Friday, January 19, 1pm, I will be giving a seminar in the Catch Room: “Wet Flies 101.” If you’ve already seen WF101, this is a new version with upgraded content and video, so don’t miss it! For those of you looking to explore the ancient and tradition art of subsurface fly fishing with wet flies, this is a great introduction.

On Saturday, January 20, 11am, I will be in Room A of the Destination Theater for “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass — How to catch the stripers that everyone can’t.” This is a new presentation that focuses on using traditional trout and salmon tactics to catch more striped bass, especially the difficult and larger fish that escape most anglers. Tackle, flies, tactics — this will cover it all.

The Edison, NJ show is the next week. The schedule hasn’t been set, but I’ll give you the details as soon as I know them. Hope to see you in Marlborough!

I love talking about and teaching fly fishing, and wet flies and striped bass are two of my favorite topics.

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The Culture of Can’t

One of my mentors used to tell me, “Say ‘yes’ and then figure out how to do it.” On the surface, it was a little intimidating. But once I got the hang of it, I realized the powerful wisdom of Gini’s words — and all the opportunities it created.

I see far too much “can’t” in fly fishing. Some of it is human nature — “can’t” gives us an easy way to opt out. Some of it derives from negative experience (“I can’t nymph.” Yes, you can. You just need someone to teach you.). Some of it is generated by preconceived mindsets and popular mythology (“Using a five weight rod is unsporting and will put too much stress on a large striper.” No, it isn’t, and not if you fight the fish from the reel and butt of the rod.).

There are two kinds of anglers: those who can’t and those who can. In my experience, the ones who can — or at least believe they can — are the ones having the most fun.

This double-digit pounder was back in the river before she knew what hit her (Herr Blue flatwing, 5-weight rod, 9-weight line, and an angler who said “yes, I can”).

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Last night’s film and upcoming events

I had a splendid time at last night’s showing of “Running the Coast.” I spoke for about ten minutes on the importance of catch-and-release for our distressed striped bass fishery. The main points were:

Catch-and-release best practice begins with tackle. Use a barbless hook and a stout leader (I typically use 20, 25, or 30# nylon).

The two biggest causes of fish mortality are over-stressing the fish and exposure to air. Set your drag tight and get those fish in fast. A 28″ striper should not be taking you into your backing. “To play him long is to play him long.” — Stu Apte. We all like souvenirs of our catch, but do you really need 20 photos of 24″ fish? Keep fish in the water prior to the money shot. Don’t suspend the fish from its mouth. Don’t drag the fish onto dry sand beaches. Use common sense. Please.

Many thanks to the sponsors, benefit organizations, and most of all to Sean Callinan and Ray Luhn for organizing the event, and for their brilliant decision to hold it at Stony Creek Brewery. (Yum.)

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Looking forward: show season is upon us. I will have details on my schedule once it firms up. I will be speaking at the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough and perhaps in Edison, NJ. I’ll likely be doing the CFFA show here in CT. I may even have a gig in Maine! Fly tying classes, demos …once these get locked up, you’ll be among the first to know. If your club is looking for a speaker, you know where to find me.

The shortest distance between two people is a “hello.” Come say hi if our paths cross this winter.

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Striper report: all about adjustments

I fished for 90 minutes today at a very popular late fall spot. Lots of bass around — the spin guys were cleaning up — but I wasn’t getting my fly where it needed to be, which was down deep. Dagnabbit, I left my bag of 3/0 shot in the car. Two sections of T-11 (totaling 10 feet) and a leader shortened to 3 feet solved the problem, along with some upstream casts and active mending. When my fly was ticking bottom, the bottom often fought back. All shorts, but some of them put up a good fight in the current. Wow, the wind! Gusts over 20mph made me glad I was casting with/across it. The dredging is still going on, but any commotion caused by tugs and barges didn’t seem to bother the fish. A glorious day to wet a line and catch a few stripers (and a bonus shad).

No photos, because you all know what a schoolie looks like. You’ll have to settle for a blast from the past on a warm summer night a few years ago…

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Salmon River steelhead report: Cruel to be kind

I do my best to understand, dear, but you still mystify — and I don’t think I’ll ever know why.

Why does a cold front always seem to come through on the day I booked months ago?

Why won’t the steelhead take the fly — any fly — on this particular day?

Why do steelhead glom onto only small black stones or only fluorescent orange eggs or…?

Why do I subject myself to this?

These are the questions I ponder at night over a glass of single malt. Finding the answers isn’t necessarily the goal — or even a realistic outcome. It’s just part of the Kabuki known as steelhead madness.

Monday: I call it “Salmon River Sunshine.” It refers to the snow, rain, sleet, and the more esoteric forms of lake-effect precipitation. Today it was white pellets and snow. It started around 7am — we’d launched at 6 — and it went full throttle pretty much all morning. The stuff stuck to the boat, our gear, hoods, gloves —  no horizontal surface was spared. Now, I’ve had plenty of good days fishing in crap weather, but this wasn’t one of them. Not a single touch the entire day. We were surely fishing over steelhead, because Cam hooked five, landing three. Okay, so he was using egg sacks. But shouldn’t I have gotten at least a courtesy tap?

I tend to view these situations as a half full/half empty dichotomy: I’m fishing well, my drifts are good, I’m alert and ready to set the hook, and I know there are steelhead below. But as much as I will it to be so, they just won’t take the fly. That’s more than a little frustrating when you’ve driven hours so you can shiver in your boots for the skunk while standing in five inches of slush in the bottom of a boat.

Of course, the salve for this day was how well Cam fished. (He hooked and landed more steelhead than any other angler we saw or spoke to.) Being a proud papa can do wonders for your spirits, so I went all in on that. And I reminded myself that in any multi-day trip, the fighting is in rounds.

When I sent this photo to my wife, her comment was, “Even the fish looks cold.” That’s our guide, James Kirtland of Row Jimmy Guide Service.  I’ve become a much better steelhead angler because of him. Highly recommended.

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Tuesday: Having blanked on two of my four steelhead days this fall, I was ready to negotiate an agreement using my fly fishing soul as collateral. I’m talking, of course, about trout beads. Yes, they are proven steelhead catchers. No, they are not flies. But it’s my trip and I can do whatever the hell I want. Purists among you will be pleased to know that I blanked for the two hours I used them. (I have to confess that I wasn’t all that upset about it, either.)

I’d had some success the previous week on a pattern called a Breaking Skein Glitter Fly. It’s basically a Crystal Meth with a pearl Krystal Flash tail and some white Estaz ribbed between the fluorescent orange braid loops. Wasn’t I the happiest angler on the river when my indicator went under and the line thrummed with energy?

After 11 consecutive hours of skunk, that’ll put a smile on your face. I had to earn this one. It was a fresh, energetic fish, and after a couple line burning runs it decided that the boat was a cut bank and parked underneath it. Picture me leaning over the bow, rod tip in the water, trying to coax it out. Seconds became years, but we finally had our grip and grin.

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This year’s fishing was different for me in that all my steelhead came on bright, flashy patterns. I spent many hours presenting small black stones (Redheads, Copperheads, etc.) and any number of natural-toned soft-hackles to no avail. They wanted the bling. (I did hook and drop a fish on a 60-Second Copperhead). By the time ice in the rod tips was no longer a factor, Cam had boated three, and I’d taken my second on the Breaking Skein Glitter Fly.

It’s a very, very, very good sign.

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It was now early afternoon and time was a thief. I’d gotten a bump on a hot orange Salmon River Rajah fished under an indicator, so I rolled the dice, ditched the yarn, and embarked on a little swinging adventure. I gave it the better part of an hour, but in the end I went back to the Breaking Skein well. My last steelhead ate the fly with fierce conviction, but I whiffed on the set. We got a good look at it when it boiled, and we ruefully concurred that it was the biggest fish of the day. Oh, the cruelty! I kept pounding the slot the fish had been holding in, and ten minutes later the steelhead gods showed their kindness as the fish struck and I buried the hook in the corner of its mouth. Like my first fish, this buck cartwheeled down the pool, then made a beeline for the security of under the boat. At double digit pounds, this steelhead needed some firm pressure to get him to relinquish his position. In the end, the hoop of the net encircled him, and smiles decorated every face.

On Tuesday, November 21st, 2017, the steelhead loved this fly. On Monday, November 20th, 2017, they ignored it. Don’t ask me why.

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Cam was high hook both days and for the trip, with seven total steelhead, three of them in some nasty, difficult conditions. Dad was three-for-five. But as I tell Cam, if I can land just one steelhead, that’s a good day.

Lee Wulff was right. As was Nick Lowe. (In the right measure.) 

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“Running The Coast” film benefit event (bonus: it’s at Stony Creek Brewery) November 29 & 30

As the proud father of a veteran (my oldest son Bill, USMC, two tours in Iraq) I’m delighted to share this with you. I’ll be speaking before the film on night two, November 30th. Hope to see you at the Stony Creek Brewery.

You can get all the details here.

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Salmon River steelhead report: a little boating, a little hiking, and (finally) some catching

Tuesday: The Salmon can be tough on the fly at 1,650cfs. Then again, I’ve had some of my best days in four-digit flows. With all that water, the fish would have been on the move, then doing their best sardine impression once they reached their wintering destinations in the pools above Pineville. What’s more, a drift boat would give me access to places no fly rod could reach.

You can maintain a positive outlook, plan for the best — or if you’re superstitious, make burnt offerings to the steelhead gods. But in the end, they are in control. And today their answer was no. We saw five steelhead hooked all day from Altmar to Pineville. Four of them came in a 15 minute window, and three of them on plugs. My day’s excitement came when I fouled one below Ellis Cove. I don’t think that fish stopped until it reached Port Ontario.

I fished hard and I fished well, which is all any angler can do. But the best thing I can say about the day was that I got to sleep in. Getting up at 4am for the skunk would have been mortally depressing.

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Wednesday: A-creeking I did go. I was on the water by 7am, my optimism unswayed by two discouraged anglers heading to their truck. They had been there since first light without a touch. I blanked as well, and then for good measure hiked a quarter mile downstream to blank again. I drove to Creek B and never got close to the water. A guide was making his way across a field with two weary clients in tow. The walk of shame is highly distinguishable from the march of victory, and I knew what their answer was before I asked the question. In fact, the guide reported, there were pinners using egg sacks who blanked. With a sigh I headed back to the Salmon.

This was supposed to be a picture of a steelhead. But since there were no willing subjects, I had to settle for an early morning still life.

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I gave two runs in the middle river an hour. It was still morning, so I headed for the LFZ lot in Altmar. I had enough wanderlust left in me to make the ridiculous decision to walk to the UFZ. It’s a proper haul by itself, never mind in 5mm boot foots. I hadn’t fished the top end of the UFZ in years, and while it was pleasant enough getting reacquainted, it was far too much work for the consolation prize of a single YOY steelhead.

I made it back to the truck by 4pm. I’d always avoided the LFZ — crowds are generally not my thing — but with the specter of another lousy trip ominously stalking me, I headed in. And that simple choice made all the difference.

Starting the transition from chrome to dark horse.

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Thursday: There are two things I’ll get up early for, and steelhead is one of them. I was awake without the alarm at 4:44am, first vehicle in the lot, and on the water before false dawn. I met up with UpCountry Sportfishing’s Torrey Collins and some of his friends, and everyone got into steelhead. Great bunch of guys to fish with. The sharing energy extended beyond hookups, from rotating the line to netting fish to passing out victory cigars.

My last fish of the day was a memorable one. I was telling Torrey about the fly I was using, the Salmon River Rajah, when I got snagged on the bottom. (I’d found the inspiration for it, The Rajah, in a book called Fly Patterns of Alaska. I didn’t like a lot of the materials the pattern called for, so I switched them out for ones that I thought moved and breathed and gave the fly an entirely different energy.) Two roll casts failed to free the fly, so I waded upstream and pulled until it came loose. As I was stripping the fly in to check the hook point, whack! Steelhead on. And soon, landed.

Grinning like a ‘possum eating a sweet potato. I caught my first steelhead in 2009, and while I don’t generally count fish, steelhead are different. I’ve been keeping track over the years, feast or famine, and this is the 75th steelhead I’ve landed.

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Steelhead can’t think, but if they could, that buck might have decided, “I want that!” Change bucktail to soft hackle fibers, tinsel to holographic braid, chenille to Estaz, and polar bear to Arctic fox, and you’ve got a Salmon River Rajah. More than once I’ve seen a steelhead go out of its way to eat this fly.

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